I really feel guilty in a major way this election season and think I owe Hillary Clinton an apology. I’ve been a democrat for as long as I can remember, mostly because I find the republican’s social platform to be a deal breaker. Given the opportunity, I might support a more conservative fiscal policy, but I can’t reconcile that with being pro-choice, anti-discrimination, pro-gay marriage, anti-criminalization of petty drug crimes, etc. This election, I’ve been vocally anti-Trump, but was not necessarily pro-Clinton. I’ve found the constant scandal tiresome and talk of her trustworthiness off-putting. She hasn’t been a candidate that has felt warm in the same way Barack Obama does. I’ve felt a lack of enthusiasm over not having a “likeable” candidate.
But then the other day she had a post on Humans of New York that has really left me reeling. She wrote (in long form because it bears repeating)…
I was taking a law school admissions test in a big classroom at Harvard. My friend and I were some of the only women in the room. I was feeling nervous. I was a senior in college. I wasn’t sure how well I’d do. And while we’re waiting for the exam to start, a group of men began to yell things like: ‘You don’t need to be here.’ And ‘There’s plenty else you can do.’ It turned into a real ‘pile on.’ One of them even said: ‘If you take my spot, I’ll get drafted, and I’ll go to Vietnam, and I’ll die.’ And they weren’t kidding around. It was intense. It got very personal. But I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t afford to get distracted because I didn’t want to mess up the test. So I just kept looking down, hoping that the proctor would walk in the room. I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena. And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.
I’m not Barack Obama. I’m not Bill Clinton. Both of them carry themselves with a naturalness that is very appealing to audiences. But I’m married to one and I’ve worked for the other, so I know how hard they work at being natural. It’s not something they just dial in. They work and they practice what they’re going to say. It’s not that they’re trying to be somebody else. But it’s hard work to present yourself in the best possible way. You have to communicate in a way that people say: ‘OK, I get her.’ And that can be more difficult for a woman. Because who are your models? If you want to run for the Senate, or run for the Presidency, most of your role models are going to be men. And what works for them won’t work for you. Women are seen through a different lens. It’s not bad. It’s just a fact. It’s really quite funny. I’ll go to these events and there will be men speaking before me, and they’ll be pounding the message, and screaming about how we need to win the election. And people will love it. And I want to do the same thing. Because I care about this stuff. But I’ve learned that I can’t be quite so passionate in my presentation. I love to wave my arms, but apparently that’s a little bit scary to people. And I can’t yell too much. It comes across as ‘too loud’ or ‘too shrill’ or ‘too this’ or ‘too that.’ Which is funny, because I’m always convinced that the people in the front row are loving it.
Every time I’ve read it since, it moves me to tears. What got me in particular was the phrase “If you want to run for the Senate, or run for the Presidency, most of your role models are going to be men. And what works for them won’t work for you. Women are seen through a different lens. ” I’m being reminded especially lately that, in the professional/academic sphere, there’s no play book to do these jobs as a woman. You can behave as your male colleagues do and be seen as hostile and aloof and cold. You can try to be warmer and be seen as the “nice person” that people want to work for because they think you’ll be an easy boss, and then be the bitch when you call them out for not working. Or, in your attempts at being nurturing, have them share more with you than you’re comfortable with.
A couple of months ago I read Henry Cloud’s Boundaries. Like my other personal life guru Dave Ramsey, he’s a great author if you’re prepared that he writes from a Christian perspective. It doesn’t mean you have to be a Christian to find his writing worthwhile, because the advice is still good even if you’re not a bible believer. But, I digress. I realize in reflecting on this book and Hillary’s statement, that women (with race applied as a modifier) are not expected to be allowed to have boundaries in how they are treated. They don’t serve themselves. They serve the common good. They are what society needs them to be – wife, nurturer, mother, mammy, sex symbol, delicate, the nag, the asexual career woman. Placing boundaries around ourselves and setting expectations for behavior challenges people and that makes them angry. I’ve been feeling that a lot recently.
On the way home tonight, Little I got indignant in the back of the car. His school has a Girls on the Run group and a girls’ choir and he felt excluded that he couldn’t join those groups. I empathized with his desire to participate and feelings of exclusion, until he lamented that he felt discriminated against. Then I lost my mind. I tried to explain the profound place of privilege he enjoys in society. He’ll never earn $0.76 on the dollar at a job, compared to his female colleagues. He’ll never be called shrill or emotional or be told that he’s not nurturing enough. I wanted to Vulcan mind meld with his little brain and show him how hard it is to navigate these spaces. And the women who went before me had it even harder.
I’m so sorry, Hillary. So, so sorry. I get how much harder it is. You’re a competent, hard working public servant and diplomat and that’s all that should matter.I’m sorry I let myself get distracted and I’m with you.